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I’m not beautiful and that is OK.

I’ve started therapy at a new clinic. My therapist is a WOC who identifies as a feminist so she gets points for that. We’ve talked about growing as girl children in machista families. She understands where I’m coming from with certain things.

However, every time I mention the word ugly she stops to ask if I really think I’m ugly.

No, I don’t. By conventional standards, I am ugly and not very feminine looking. I’m fat, I have stretch marks and cellulite. I have jiggly and flabby skin. I have scars from self injury. I’m tall. I have short hair dyed an unnatural color. I have piercings and I’m hairy.

But I really don’t give a fuck if I’m ugly or not. Not anymore.
When I was little all I heard from my family was how fat and ugly I was. So, as I got older and the other girls were trying on make up and exploring their femininity I decided that those things were vain and frivolous. They were weak and I wouldn’t be.

I had internalized the misogyny hurled at me all my life. I would be one of the guys, not like those other silly girls. I shunned anything that could be called feminine while simultaneously adhered to other rigid gender norms like shaving. And why did I shave? Because hairy women are “ugly”. Men don’t like hairy women. So while I shunned certain aspects of femininity to protect myself I also chose to follow some to also protect myself. I was a mess. A chill girl mess.

As I’ve matured into my feminism, I’ve learned that femininity isn’t weakness. Once I learned to let go of that internalized misogyny, I realized femininity is powerful. I wear make up and dresses now because it makes me feel good about myself. It makes me feel pretty. Not pretty for other people. Pretty for me. I don’t shave because it’s too much hassle and I was only doing it for other people.

I’m going to have to explain that being ugly isn’t the worst thing. I’ll have to explain what I mean when I use the word ugly. I’ll have to spend part of my therapy session explaining 101 feminism/social justice stuff. And that’s exhausting. My thinking I’m “ugly” isn’t more important than treating my PTSD.

On a typical summer day, you’ll find me wearing a pretty dress, make up on my face all while my pits and legs are hairy. I’m not beautiful by conventional standards and that’s OK. I never will fit into the white ideal and I don’t want to. I’m beautiful for me.

I’m not beautiful and that is OK.

Let Me Take A Selfie

A few years ago, I participated in one of the Facebook status games. The point of the game was to reveal something about yourself, something that some people might not know or that you think they should know. Among the list, I included that I struggled with fairly severe body image issues. A friend of mine responded that she was surprised to learn that because she always believed me to be very confident. Since I have a tendency to hide my body, even as a nudist, and a tendency to show discomfort around my appearance, I was quite surprised to learn that she believed me to be confident. I asked her why she thought so and she replied: Yours always posting pictures of yourself.

It wasn’t meant as a criticism of me, it wasn’t meant to shame me, and it was simply an observation. I post pictures of myself, I take several pictures of myself, so therefore I must be confident.

As a culture, we’ve created this idea that selfies are a sign of vanity, and we are terrified of vanity. So much so, that we have built an entire culture predicated on teaching everyone to hate their appearance. We create impossible standards and then tell everyone that regardless of circumstance we must achieve it and maintain it. We’ve so thoroughly pervaded our social bias towards people who fall outside the “acceptable standards of beauty” that we as a society no longer treat them as fully human. Perversely, in an attempt to avoid the appearance of vanity we have instead created a cultural obsession towards an obsessive hatred of one’s self.

Ultimately, that is all that vanity is. It is an appreciation for one’s own appearance. It is a love for what you see when you look at yourself. It is a comfort in your own skin. Yes, excessive vanity can be dangerous, just like excess in anything is dangerous. But vanity, by itself? It is an act of self-love.

But selfies? They’re not an expression of vanity, they are a lifeline that reminds myself that I am not worthless. That I am not hideous. It is what allows me to replace my internal image of myself from one of loathing to one of acceptance. Because I don’t love how I look. I hate it. I can’t look in the mirror without desperately wanting to cut off some pieces of myself. Without wondering how anyone can possibly be attracted to me, and wondering if every sexual interaction I’ve ever had was a lie. My body, my appearance, was the weapon used to cut at my psyche over and over and over again. I was told it was the reason I was alone.

Those words, those cuts to my self-esteem are part of the reason why I let myself be taken in by users and abusers when I went out into the dating world. It was the excuse for every negative interaction with people I was interested in. They’re the reason that I sat like this, to avoid my rolls showing up through my shirt, because then people would think of me as fat.

Ania at 14 sitting with her back arched so as to not show any bulges

It is what made me think for years that the girl in this picture was fat.

Ania at 13 standing in front of the Notre Dame

Then I figured out that if I was careful I could take pictures that highlighted the few things that I do like about myself. The contrast of my features against my sk

Ania in a black tank top
in, the darkness of my hair, the colour of my eyes, all things I could appreciate about myself. They were things that let me believe that I had value, that I was worthy of love. Especially in this world that goes out of its way to tell me the opposite. These pictures, these pictures that are used to mock my vanity, to mock the very hutzpah of daring to love even the smallest part of myself when I am so far from perfect. Because how dare I. How dare I?

Older picture of Ania
How dare I look to myself for validation when the world teaches me that I should rely on the approval of men, regardless of whether I have any interest in their approval. How dare I not be grateful for the compliment that men deign to bestow on me, regardless of whether I want them, or whether they make me feel unsafe and like a target. The one that tells me that I am never allowed to refuse an advance because I’m ugly and so they are doing me a favour my being with me and tells me I am not allowed to have standards.

So no, I don’t need you to tell me that I am pretty. Because I have my selfie, so that I can tell myself what I need to hear.

Because that’s what they are. They’re selfies, and they have nothing to do with you.

 

Let Me Take A Selfie